Woah. Take a breath.

Imagine you are writing not about the internet but about the invention of movable type and the spread of the book. It’s 1479 in Gutenberg years. The Reformation and the scientific revolution have yet to be sparked with the help of this new technology. Our notion of the nation is yet to be formed for centuries to come. Our idea of education and thus of childhood is just about to shift. There were similar cries about the book back in that time even before the scale of disruption — and it was volcanic — became clear. Here is Elizabeth Eisenstein, the key Gutenberg scholar, quoting Erasmus:

“The benefits of printing were almost eclipsed by complaints about increased output: swarms of new books were glutting the market and once venerated authors were being neglected. ‘To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books? … The very multitude of them is hurting scholarship, because it creates a glut, and even in good things satiety is most harmful.’ The minds of men ‘flighty and curious of anything new’ are lured ‘away from the study of old authors’.”

I ask you to examine your own assumptions about the dystopia you assume we are in today and its causes. Take a look down your own Facebook feed. Do you really find it filled with hate? Search most any topic on Google? Don’t you find worthwhile information? Yes, our nation has been taken over by a dangerous idiot. But we can’t ascribe that to the internet; the forces that created him began before and personally I’d lie the vast majority of the blame for enabling him and what surrounds him at the feet of Rupert Murdoch with help from Rush Limbaugh, not Mark Zuckerberg! Yes, the press is failing but its loss of trust began in the ’70s and so did the trends that have led to its business decline. Yes, the quality of civil discourse is appalling but let’s blame anti-intellectualism and robbing schools of resources for that.

You make reference to the good the internet brings. It is considerable. I also ask you to catalog that and balance the two before deciding that the internet is a net loss. I also ask you to take stock of the timeline we’re living in. 1479. Our Martin Luther isn’t even born yet. We are still looking at the future in the analog of the past and lamenting the change we cannot yet grasp.

Finally, I would ask you to give your fellow man and woman some credit. We managed to weather and eventually exploit the change brought on by the book and the steam engine and worldwide communication. We’ll figure this out. Give us time — and new generations not stuck in our past — to renegotiate norms and expectations, to exploit benefits and to guard against dangers.

I fear your fear more. I see a moral panic — a #technopanic — rising in the likes of this piece and every other day at my beloved Guardian. That moral panic will — by definition — be exploited by those who hold power today to retain that power, to inveigh against the grave dangers brought by this technology and change. Trump and his henchmen are doing just that: see Ajit Pai. Don’t become their accomplices by spreading emotional fear over rational analysis.

Written by

Blogger & prof at CUNY’s Newmark J-school; author of Geeks Bearing Gifts, Public Parts, What Would Google Do?, Gutenberg the Geek

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